When I was little, the bulk of my PC gaming came from downloading shareware titles from the considerable libraries of Apogee and Epic Megagames. It’s was from Epic’s collection that I encountered first roguelike game: Rick Saada’s Castle of the Winds. CotW had all the hallmarks of the genre, such as tile-based, turn-based movement, unidentified magical items, and a fantasy setting, with a few important differences. It used tile set graphics instead of ASCII symbols, it ran in Windows and used the mouse instead of strictly using the keyboard, and, most importantly, it allowed you to retain your saved game after dying.
The lack of a permadeath feature arguably makes CotW the prototypical “roguelite,” a genre that borrows concepts from roguelikes but seeks broader appeal by making things more forgiving. I can safely say that little me would not have put up with permadeath, especially not with a few dozen other games just a dial-up download away. I got into CotW hardcore, though it was years before I went beyond the shareware episode to the full game. The ability to go back to a save when I died instead of having to start from the beginning made it possible for me to progress. Eventually I moved on to more traditional roguelikes like Ancient Domains of Mystery (a game I have played for hundreds of hours and not beaten once), but I never would’ve gotten a taste for the genre without CotW.
Castle of the Winds was made freeware some time ago and is still available online, but it’s fallen into a tricky spot when it comes to emulation. It was run exclusively under Windows 3.1. You can’t simply DOSBox it, and modern 64-bit operating systems can no longer emulate it. This means that if you want to play CotW, you either have to install a copy of Windows 3.1 in DOSBox, or run a virtual WinXP environment, or daisy chain VMWare, Ubuntu, and Wine. Honestly, I don’t think it’s worth all that effort to play unless you’re revisiting it for nostalgia purposes. If you want to check out roguelike gameplay, there are easier means to find it, and CotW doesn’t exactly bring any big ideas to the basic formula. I just wanted to share how a simple game broadened my horizons.